REGIMENT PENNSYLVANIA VOLS.,
New Berne, N. C., April 23, 1862.
SIR: I have the honor to report, for the information of the general commanding the division, that on the landing of the Fifty-first Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers and Twenty-first Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers at the point on the Pasquotank River about 3 miles below Elizabeth City) between the hours of 6 and 7 a.m. on the 19th instant, I by his order took command of the two regiments and formed them in line in the open field. Sending forward Company A, of the Fifty-first Pennsylvania, as an advance guard to the column, the wagons hauling the cannon and loaded with the ammunition, &c., were next put in line. These were followed by the Fifty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers and Twenty-first Massachusetts. Everything being in readiness, the march was commenced about 7.30 o'clock.
Colonel Hawkins (Ninth New York), commanding the First [Fourth] Brigade, composed of the Ninth New York, Eighty-ninth New York, and Sixth New Hampshire Volunteers, had marched from the point of landing between the hours of 2 and 3 a.m.) and was supposed to be in possession of the bridge near South Mills at the time of our marching. The road was in most excellent marching condition, and the men pushed forward as rapidly as could be desired. The extreme heat of the sun, though, soon began to exhaust them very much. After having marched a distance of about 10 miles we were unexpectedly joined from the right by Colonel Hawkins' command, who, through an unfortunate mistake upon the part of his guide, had taken the wrong road and been misled some 10 miles from his course. His brigade fell in rear of the column, and as rapidly as possible we moved forward.
Company F, of the Fifty-first, was now sent forward to strengthen the advance guard. The heat of the sun was most oppressive, the road dusty, the men hungry. About noon General Reno, who was in advance, was just about to call a halt, in order that the men might dine and rest themselves, when, most unexpectedly, the enemy opened upon us with cannon, the position of which was well masked by a burning house and some cedar trees. They kept up from the first discharge a vigorous fire. By order from General Reno I directed the Fifty-first Pennsylvania Volunteers to move by the right flank across the field to the woods on the enemy's left, in order to flank the battery and troops supporting it. The Twenty-first Massachusetts, having halted to rest before the enemy opened, was some distance in rear. The enemy kept up an incessant fire at the Fifty-first Regiment as it crossed the field toward the woods, but the range being too great for canister they were obliged to confine themselves to solid shot, and these did no damage. After reaching the woods they were moved toward the enemy's position. On account of the extreme exhaustion of the men and the thickness of the underbrush their advance was necessarily slow and tedious. The enemy followed the movement with his cannon, but not until we had approached sufficiently near for him to use canister did he do any injury. By the canister 1 man was killed and several wounded.
I ordered Major Schall, commanding the Fifty-first, to put out his skirmishers and advance on the enemy's left to where the Third Georgia Volunteers were posted in the woods and engage them and sent back to bring up the Twenty-first Massachusetts. On their arrival I conducted them, by order of General Reno, along the edge of the woods in the course taken by the Fifty-first. On coming up with the Fifty-first the skirmishers of the enemy showed themselves in the field and woods, and fire was immediately opened upon them by Company B, of the Fifty-first. That regiment, by my order, immediately advanced to the fence on the edge of the open field and opened an enfilading fire on the Third Georgia and other troops of the enemy, who were drawn up in the woods skirting the open field at right angles to our position. Our fire was warmly responded to. I ordered the Twenty-first Massachusetts farther to the right, in order to guard against any attack on our flank or rear. They were immediately engaged with the enemy.
Soon after we had opened fire the Ninth New York (Hawkins' Zouaves) started to charge the position of the enemy across the open field in front, but by heavy discharges of canister they were repulsed with considerable loss. Many of the men of the regiment joined us in our position. After the firing had been vigorously kept up from half to three-quarters of an hour I ordered a charge across the field on their position. This was most gallantly done by the Fifty-first Pennsylvania and Twenty-first Massachusetts, the Sixth New Hampshire advancing up the left of the road and the Eighty-ninth and Ninth New York from the woods. The enemy broke and fled from the field precipitately, leaving us in undisputed possession of it. Our troops being too much fatigued from the long march and the battle to pursue the enemy farther, they were, by order of the general commanding, bivouacked in the woods.
On account of the ease with which the enemy could be re-enforced from Norfolk, distant only about 28 miles, and the probability that he had already been largely re-enforced, thus accomplishing the chief object of the reconnaissance, and because of the smallness of our force, the lack of ammunition and provisions, it was deemed prudent by the general commanding and all the officers consulted by him to retire to our vessels. Accordingly, between 9 and 10 o'clock p.m., large camp-fires having been built, the column moved off. The Twenty-first Massachusetts brought up the rear, Company D, Lieutenant Barker, and two guns, under the command of Colonel Howard, of the Marine Artillery, and the Pioneer Corps of the Fifty-first Pennsylvania, under Lieutenant Ortlip (to destroy the bridge), acting as our guard.
On account of a heavy rain which had fallen the roads were in a miserable condition, but the arduous march to the landing was accomplished by between 6 and 7 o'clock a.m. on the 20th.
On account of the lack of transportation and the severity of their wounds the medical director of the column, Dr. Humphreys, of the Ninth New York, was obliged to leave about 20 of the wounded in charge of Dr. Warren, assistant surgeon of the Twenty-first Massachusetts, in the hospital established in the houses about the field. Some few from exhaustion failed to reach the place of landing in time to embark in the transports, but it is confidently expected that they have all been taken on board the gunboat sent up to the creek above Camden Court-House, and will soon rejoin their regiments. On arriving at the landing the troops were placed on board the transports and soon sailed. The Twenty-first and Fifty-first arrived at New Berne about 12 o'clock on Tuesday, the 22d instant.
I transmit herewith the reports of Lieutenant-Colonel Clark, commanding Twenty-first Massachusetts, and Major Schall, commanding the Fifty-first Pennsylvania, with their list of casualties. Though both regiments were almost utterly exhausted before the commencement of the action, both attacked the enemy with great vigor, and by their gallant charge completely routed them.
I desire to mention particularly the assistance rendered me during the march and on the field by my acting aides, Lieutenant Harlow, quartermaster of the Twenty-first. Massachusetts, and Lieutenants Beaver and Fair, of the Fifty-first Pennsylvania.
I am, captain, very respectfully yours,
THOMAS S. BELL,
Lieut. Col., 51st Pa. Vols., Comdg. Brig., Reconnoitering Expedition.
Capt. EDWARD M. NEILL,
A. A. G., Second Division.